August 19, 2018

5 Whys Root Cause Analysis; Solving Root Cause Not Symptoms; Asking Why?

5 Whys root cause analysis
Solving Root Cause not Symptoms; Asking why?
written by Tony Leanman
[source: Hubpages]

Why 5 Whys

5 Whys root cause analysis is a powerful but very simple tool to identify the root cause of a problem so that you can tackle the true cause of the problem not the symptoms.

Either in your business or in any other walk of life, asking why can lead you to the root of a problem. Far too often in our businesses we tend to address the symptoms of a problem rather than addressing the true root cause. Because of this the problems fail to go away and just reappear again at a later date. Asking WHY five times can help you reach the root cause of a problem allowing you to prevent their re-occurrence.

Use the 5 Whys for root cause analysis and stop wasting your time putting sticking plasters over the problems to fix them for a day or two. By addressing the root cause of a problem you prevent it from re-occurring, saving yourself time and money.

Too often in our businesses we spend our time asking why this problem has happened again, why it didn't go away after we fixed it last week, five whys will help you to remove these repeating problems by curing the root cause.

Symptoms vs Root Cause

When something goes wrong we typically witness the symptoms of the problem, the defects at the end of our production line or the failed machine. The cause of the problem is not always so obvious and far too often we jump to conclusions regarding what those causes are, typically grabbing at another symptom of the original problem as being the root cause as we don’t investigate “deep” enough.

For instance a teenager may blame their oily skin for their spots and buy many lotions and creams to cure the oily skin, but why have they got oily skin? The root cause could be down to their environment, their diet, even their hormones or genetics. They are only tackling a symptom of the underlying problem so they will never truly cure the issue.

Root cause analysis using the 5 Whys will help your drive continuous business improvement and even improvements in other areas of your life.

History of the 5 Whys

The 5 whys originated within the Toyota Production System and is an integral part of Lean Manufacturing, Kaizen and even Six Sigma. Taiichi Ohno saw the 5 Whys as a very important part of Toyotas overall philosophy.

5 Whys Method

Like that annoying kid that keeps asking “why” when you give him an answer until you get to the point of just saying “because” when you run out of steam, 5 whys is a very simple method to use to drill down through the layers of symptoms to get to the root cause.

The process is simple just ask why 5 times in succession to get to the true root cause of the problem as per the pictures below.

This is a very simple process indeed but more often than not we stop at the very first "why" and try to do something about the symptoms rather than getting to the true root causes. Putting repeated sticking plasters onto our processes we find ourselves having to deal with the same problems day after day and never make progress to actually solve our issues. This is why the 5 Whys are so important and should be a discipline that is instilled at all levels within the organization.

5 Whys Process
Click link above to view thumbnails.

5 Whys Criticisms

The criticisms of 5 whys are many but to be honest they are missing the point behind the ideas of using 5 whys, the idea of the 5 whys is to instill the discipline of searching for the true root cause behind something.

In the example above we could still continue asking why a sixth or even seventh time and investigated the maintenance routine of the machine and so forth. The point is not to stop at 5 whys, 5 was only used as it was typically enough to reach to the true root cause, however there will often be occasions when you need to ask 6, 7 or even 8 times to reach the true root cause, the point is to keep investigating to the point that you tackle the real cause.

The other problem is that different people follow the process they may come up with a different why, sometimes there are multiple symptoms and causes of a problem especially with more complex problems, at this point we try brainstorming and fishbone diagrams to try to determine the root causes, but again questioning each potential root cause to see if it is truly the root cause.

But if there is more than one potential root cause to a problem don't just solve the one that caused today's problem. How many times do you see something that could go wrong, ignore it because you are too busy, only to have it bite you a day or a week later!

Why 5 Whys is Important

It is the discipline of searching for the root cause not tackling the symptoms that is the strength of the 5 whys technique, it is not meant to be taken as a literal 5 step tool for individuals to use to get to the root cause every time. use as many whys as you need to get to your root cause and if it means exploring more than one potential do so.

Continuous Improvement Using 5 whys

It is not enough in business to wait for a problem to occur and then tackle those problems, if you want to succeed then you have to have a planned process of continuous process improvement. 5 whys is a very good tool and discipline to instill in your people but it must be used within a planned framework of improvement.

What findings you derive from using 5 whys you should look to implement across other similar processes also, if lack of maintenance is causing problems on one machine the chances are that it causing problems elsewhere also. If one department’s skills with customer communication are causing issues with delivery what communication issues are causing problems in other departments?

Improvement never ends if you want to succeed!

Quality Tools

In addition to using the 5 Whys root cause analysis there are a host of other quality tools that can help you with your continuous process improvement and help you to eliminate the true root causes of your problems;

Like the many other quality tools the five whys is best used in conjunction wit other techniques and as part of a planned process of improvement not just fire fighting your problems on a daily basis. Used together the quality tools including the 5 whys are an effective way to improve your business and its competitiveness. The 7 Quality Tools.

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